Bill S-218, The Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (Jane Goodall Act), was introduced in the Senate on November 17th, 2020 by Sen. Murray Sinclair. If passed, it would (mostly) prohibit the captivity of great apes, elephants, and other exotic species, as well as, banning the importation of elephant ivory and hunting trophies. Furthermore, it seeks to establish legal standing for great apes, elephants, whales, and dolphins.
This is the first animal rights legislation introduced into parliament since just before the 2019 Federal election. At the end of the last sitting of Parliament prior to the election, three animal bills were passed: C-84 (Beastiality and Animal Fighting), S-203 (Banning Cetacean Captivity), and S-238 (Banning the Importation of Shark Fins). Bill S-218 continues the trend of unelected members of parliament, senators, being the leaders of the animal legislation movement. Undoubtedly, some elected Members of Parliament will champion such a bill, but it is disappointing that our elected representatives don’t show more leadership in this area.
What is good about Bill S-218 is that it covers a lot of ground. Animal advocates have been calling for the end of captivity of elephants, great apes, and other exotic species for decades. Closing loopholes around elephant ivory imports and the possibility of introducing legal standing into the Criminal Code for some non-human animals would open the door for further acknowledgement of their sentience and rights.
When Bill S-203 was being examined in committees, it was able to open the door to the conversations we need to be having about the status and treatment of animals in Canada. It exposed the hypocrisy of organizations that kept cetaceans in captivity, such as the Vancouver Aquarium, and the self-accreditation system of zoos and aquariums under Canadian Accreditation of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA). For the first time in Canada, it was wrong to put an animal on display and hold them in captivity for people’s entertainment because it hurt the interests of the animal.
Bill S-218 follows in the footsteps of Bill S-203 by being centered around the moral outrage we should have as a society that intelligent, social, emotional beings are being kept in unnatural, unhealthy, and oppressive settings, so that people can stare at them. However, it does go a step further by situating this crime as a systemic wrong when it seeks to alleviate the abysmal status of animals in our society as mere property by granting them legal standing. While only proposed to be applied to a few animals, it would open the door for a shift in how the law, our politics, and broader society talks about animals.
What is lacking about Bill S-218 is that it is more species-specific legislation. While Bills C-84, S-203, and S-238 were improvements, they also did not change anything for 99.99% of animals in Canada. This is how most animal legislation works: by changing enough to move things forward, but not enough that it will upset the industries that overwhelmingly exploit animals. Bill S-218 will not mean an end to the captivity of most animals in zoos or aquariums, in research, or the hundreds of millions suffering on farms and in industrial agriculture every day. However, this is the slow process of change we are burdened with.
There will also be some exceptions to the captivity rule, such as conservation, welfare, or nonharmful scientific research. It also does not apply to the animals currently in captivity, just like how Bill S-203 did not save all the cetaceans currently in captivity, it only seeks to stop further import of animals into captivity. These are major loopholes that dampen the integrity of the bill and possibly open it up to abuse, but we must keep in mind the wording and content of the bill will still undergo extensive debate that will likely change various aspects, so we should be open to its development.
It is very early days for Bill S-218, but undoubtedly animal use industries, especially zoos, are going to be preparing for a battle for the minds of the public to try and fight the more progressive aspects of the bill. Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Outdoor Caucus, which worked to oppose Bill C-246 back in 2016 will also be eyeing this closely to see if it infringes on the interests of the animal use industries it represents. Animal advocates will need to be vigilant in watching the discussion unfold as the bill moves through parliament, and contact their Members of Parliament to encourage their support of the Bill.
Bill S-218 may not be everything we want right now for animals, and the fact that we are having this conversation in 2020 about keeping elephants and great apes in captivity shows how slow the fight for animals is and how much farther we need to go. However, this bill is a step in the right direction and for the individuals who could be saved from a lifetime of captivity, it is worth fighting for.
Animal Protection Party of Canada